Tag Archives: ESPN

The Spanish Inquisition

I’m a big fan of Monty Python, as I am of anyone or anything that provides great insight amidst great silliness. One of my favorite Python sketches is The Spanish Inquisition. Not only is it funny (if you like really silly) but it also provides a great business reminder:

Nobody Expects The Spanish Inquisition

It’s a phrase I’ve found myself saying many times in business as some unforeseen circumstance causes great disruption. You see examples of it every day. Just this morning, there was a report of a newspaper closing in Houston which is blamed primarily on the effects of Hurricane Harvey. I’m sure there wasn’t a business plan built around that sort of natural disaster.

Sometimes, the disruptive event can be seen but its dramatic effects aren’t. Take, for example, the discussions I used to have with some higher-ups during Internet 1.0. One person was totally convinced the explosion in web properties and the dawning digital age was “a scam.” He didn’t believe that people wanted to watch TV on their computers when a brand new HD-TV was in their living room (HD was pretty new at the time). Of course, he also didn’t expect that broadband would make delivering video to any device wirelessly as good an HD experience as that same TV, nor did he understand that it literally was the same bits that comprise the “broadcast” signal.

Those same broadcasters denied that cord-cutting would have any effect on viewing. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, you see. However, ESPN has lost more than 12 million subscribers since 2011. You think the recent waves of layoffs aren’t related to cord-cutting? When cable is losing hundreds of thousands of subscribers each month, you can count on there being an effect on the business.

The hardest part of being in business is seeing over the horizon. Brexit? President Trump? China leading the charge against climate change? The Cubs winning the World Series?? Who expected those things? Equally as difficult can be in believing what you’re seeing. Nobody may expect The Spanish Inquisition, but part of our job as businesspeople is to be ready when it pops into the room. Are you?

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Filed under Consulting, Reality checks

Football First Day Fails

Yesterday was the first full day of the NFL season, and just as many teams found out that their pre-season prep was nothing like the real thing, so too did a couple of very high-profile companies. The challenges they faced and how they handled them are instructive.

The two companies I mean are ESPN and DirecTV. Both had very prominent fails yesterday. In ESPN’s case, it was their fantasy football site. Yesterday around kickoff time (1pm ET / 10am PT) ESPN’s fantasy sports platform crashed and became unreachable on the web and in their mobile app. If you’re a fantasy football player, that is about the worst possible time for a crash since not only can’t you follow your team and league in real-time (frustrating) but you also couldn’t make last-minute changes to your lineup (angering and potentially expensive!). By the start of the late games several hours later, it was still down, leaving 7+million unhappy players.

At least ESPN’s service is free. In DirecTV’s case what failed costs $50 a month. Also starting at 1pm ET, people noticed buffering and quality issues on the streaming service, with some not being able to access a stream at all. The rage was palpable and between the two failures, Twitter exploded (with some of the responses being pretty funny).

What’s instructive are a couple of things. First, no matter how good a product or service is as an idea or in a marketing campaign if you can’t execute it’s garbage. Execution is more important in many cases than the product itself. Second, how you deal with the customers who are inconvenienced by your faulty execution can either save you or dig the hole to grave-depth. ESPN was totally transparent, admitting the outage, apologizing, and posting updates throughout. When things were fixed, they said:

“ESPN Fantasy is restored and we will continue to monitor. We identified a backend data access issue and resolved as quickly as possible. The issue did not impact data for teams, leagues or rosters. We sincerely apologize to all ESPN fantasy users.”

Transparent and sincerely apologetic. DirecTV, on the other hand, was at first not replying to customer service tweets at all. Once they did, replied to a number of complainers suggesting they check their computer settings or that they call a help line. Needless to say, that line was not in service at first. Other people were given a link to a page that helped you fix account access issues which were clearly not the problem. At no point did DirecTV acknowledge a system wide problem nor did they apologize. I imagine they didn’t however, have any issues cashing the $50 payments from all users.

Clearly, the best solution to a major problem at a critical time is to assure it doesn’t happen in the first place. That said, stuff happens. There are no secrets anymore, and your service and support problems become very visible very quickly. These two companies took two different paths after the issues arose. Which will you take?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

93 Out Of 100

Every year, the folks at Nielsen put out a review of the previous year in sports media. This year’s report is out, and one statistic jumped out at me. In 2005, 14 of the top 100 programs watched live plus same day were in the sports category. Ten years later, 93 of the top 100 were sports. That’s right: despite all of the fragmentation that’s managed to kill most other forms of programming, nearly all of the most-viewed programs watched live or same day were sports. Is it any wonder that demand for sports inventory is so high when it’s the only form of programming that is both widely viewed and watched in real time?

One would think, therefore, that being a sports programming distributor would put one, as Red Barber used to say, in the catbird seat. Looking, however, at the recent negative reports on ESPN’s financial future in the above context might cause some head-scratching (disclosure – I’m a Disney stockholder as well as a former employee). The issues, I think, are several things. First, sports, like any other form of media, is fragmented. You might never miss a NASCAR race but I couldn’t pay you to watch golf. Sure, you’re a college football fan, but turn on the tube any Saturday afternoon and you can choose from dozens of games airing live. That’s fragmentation, and what’s happened is that the rights fees paid to acquire that programming by the distributors bear little resemblance to the audiences and, therefore, the advertising.

Not a problem, you say. There are affiliate fees. That’s true, and in the case of some sports rights deal, such as the NHL and NBC, the rights fee is paid on the come. After all, if NBC can raise what they get from distributors for NBCSN from 10 cents to a quarter (as an example – those aren’t real numbers), their affiliate fees more than double. Hopefully, the demand for NHL or any other brand of sports programming can make that happen.

All well and good until “skinny bundles” show up. Suddenly, people who never watch sports (yes, there are more of them than you think) have the option of reducing their cable bill by not paying $7 a month or more for sports shows they don’t watch. This is what is causing the negative predictions about ESPN. Smalle income from affiliates based on fewer subscribers to sports channels means smaller rights fees available for the leagues and other rightsholders. Smaller TV deals mean…higher ticket prices? More expensive concessions? Smaller player contracts? Labor strife?

93 out of 100 gets an A in most classes. It’s nice that sports is “bulletproof”. So was Superman, but he, and sports, have their weak spot. It will be interesting to see where this goes, don’t you think?

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Filed under sports business, Thinking Aloud

A Random TV Thought

This tidbit crossed the wires here at the world headquarters yesterday and I want to bring it to your attention:

A new study from Altman Vilandrie says just 1/3 of 18-34 viewers in the U.S. now watch TV during normal broadcast slots, preferring instead on-demand programming via Netflix and Hulu. The study also makes a connection between increased control over when video is watched to how it is watched with nearly 1/2 of respondents saying they prefer smartphones to TVs.

“Oh sure – another TV death story,” you think.  Probably not – a lot of the content on Nextflix and Hulu comes from the TV nets who are actually more than just distributors these days.  But it brought to mind Internet Explorer, the web browser with a 90+% market share at one point which is now down substantially thanks to the growth of Firefox and Chrome. Continue reading

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Filed under digital media

Cover Bands

Wide World of Sports (U.S. TV series)

Image via Wikipedia

I suspect any of us who ever tried to play rock music for a living were, at some point, in a cover band.  Heck, a couple of my favorite bands – The Grateful Dead and The E Street Band – are just as well-known for some kick-ass cover versions of other people’s songs as they are for some of their original work.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing a cover.  You probably didn’t know it was a business thought too! Continue reading

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Filed under Reality checks

Channel Agnostic?

I spend a lot of time working with clients on the dissemination of content via multiple channels. To oversimplify (I know – I do that so well), it’s all about “write once publish everywhere.” After all, we live in a time of “what I want, when I want it, how I want it.” So you’d think I’m pretty channel-agnostic, right? Wrong. Here’s why. Continue reading

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Filed under digital media, sports business

Business Language

Like some of you, I watch a lot of sports on TV.  I listen to sports when I’m in the car.  I’m kind of obsessed, I know.   Because of this, I hear a lot of different announcers – good ones, bad ones, smart ones, dumb ones.  But it’s only over the last couple of weeks – yep, World Cup again – that I’ve come to appreciate how the careful, clever use of language can enhance the event experience much as food is enhanced by the cook who knows how to season it properly.  And that’s something to keep in mind for business as well! Continue reading

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints